I came home from my last trip with almost 20,000 photographs, which is, by any standard, a whole lot of photographs. I edited them down to about 30.
That’s 19,970 images that didn’t make the cut.
If I looked at every one of those photographs for only three seconds, it would take me 1,000 minutes, or almost 16 hours, to do the edit. I like my photographs, but I don’t know anyone who likes their photographs enough to spend 16 hours doing that without going a little cross-eyed.
Making a photograph requires work done with the camera, editing out the best of that work, and (usually) some kind of work in post-production, not to mention printing and book-making and other means of sharing that work. By editing I don’t mean post-production, but the often-painful process of deciding which images make the cut and which do not.
“Is it this one, or this one? This one? No, wait, maybe this one? Aw, hell, maybe they’re all crap.” Sound familiar?
Put your hand in the air if editing is your favourite part.
No one? That’s what I thought.
Many photographers find the edit the hardest part. I have a friend who dislikes the edit so much she’s sitting on years of unedited images. I know countless other photographers who have told me that’s the edit is the most overwhelming to them. That’s almost always the word: overwhelming.
So how do we make this less overwhelming? We could make fewer photographs, I suppose, but that’s never worked for me.
I make loads of sketch images and rely on those efforts to stimulate my creative process and encourage risk and play. Making fewer images would hamper my creativity. Instead I rely on some other ideas to make the edit more bearable—certainly faster and easier. Here are some of those practices, in hopes they can make editing less overwhelming for you.
Do More Than One Edit
If you thought you had only one shot at editing your work, it would be easy to see this as overwhelming. I mean, what if you miss one? I plan to do three edits on any work I do. The first happens as soon as I can; the second happens when I’ve had some time and space to think a little more clearly, instead of just looking for that one image I’m really excited about (but maybe also a little blinded by). And then I do an edit much further out. So for me, this is often the first edit on the day I shoot (or within a day or two), then another in a couple weeks or months, and a third in a year or so. The pressure is less, and I almost always find images on subsequent edits that I’d have missed on the first even if I paid much more attention. Time gives us a bit of perspective and changes the expectations we have as we look at the photographs.
Your edit will differ depending on your needs. Client work can introduce pressures and certain criteria that might not be there in your personal work, but I do this to make work I love, not work that’s only just OK. If it’s not a “Hell, yes” or something I can put five stars on, I skip it. It’s either a Hit or a Miss. And that’s how I look at my images: I scan until something catches my eye. Maybe it’s colour. Maybe an interesting composition, but it’s got to grab me. This immediately makes things easier. I’m not looking for every single image that is average or just a little better, but the ones that make me feel something. Will I miss images this way? Of course. That’s why I do two more edits.
Edit With Vision
I find it helpful to know what I’m choosing the images for. I like to shoot in bodies of work, around a theme. I like that constraint. It not only helps me make more focused work, but it also makes the edit easier. If I know I’m looking for images that work well in monochrome, it helps me pick the strongest images. If editing is a question of choosing the “best” image in a series, then it helps to be able to answer this question: best at what? Are you looking for a vertical cover image? It helps to know that. Are you looking for a single image or a sequence? It helps to know that, too. Was there a particular theme you were trying to explore or some specific vision you were following? You can’t make strong editing choices without knowing that.
Pick A Number
Some of you will roll your eyes at this one, but it works for me. I pick a number. It is infinitely easier for me to edit 20,000 images down if I know I need 12. You could choose 9 or 37. I like increments of 12 and have no idea why. But I keep the number small. Twelve images from a one-week trip is good as a start. If it was a portrait session, perhaps six. Or three. The number keeps the pressure off. It’s rare that I can’t find 12 images I love—at least initially—after a week. But it also forces me to be ruthless with my edit. It forces me to choose only the best. Not that I delete the ones that don’t make the 12, but the search for only those 12 helps me see my images more honestly, rather than convincing myself that 300 of them are fantastic.
Is It Print-Worthy?
When I come back from a trip or a portrait session in my studio, I do my edits so that as soon as possible, I can fire up the printer and print at least an 8×10 (actually, 8.5×11) or larger. Many a time, my finger hovered over that print button, wondering if the image was really worth the paper. When that happens, it’s a good sign that it’s not the strongest image—so I move it to the back of the print queue and reconsider it. I don’t necessarily toss it from the edit; I just make sure I’m clear on why I included it in the first place.
I think one of the reasons editing is so hard is that we get paralyzed by choice.
But remember, you’re not deleting your un-chosen images. You’re just looking for the 12 that jump out at you today. The ones that make you smile or accomplish the thing for which you made them. The others are still there and will be waiting when you come back to look at them again in a week or a month, or maybe a year.
We all have to figure out what we’re looking for, and that is also one of the challenges. I found it much easier when I started to edit with that in mind and stopped approaching the process as though I had an obligation to choose every single image that might not suck.
As with any creative endeavour, constraints help. Look for three images that grab you, or eight. That’s not so overwhelming, right? It’s better than just never doing it. Or worse, hating the process. Find a way to do it that allows you to feel the kind of excitement you associate with other parts of making your photographs.
You don’t have to do it all at once; you’re allowed to change your mind later. And if it’s down to a choice between two images that are really close and you can’t decide, just pick one. You’ll either be relieved to have made the choice or you’ll immediately regret it and then you’ll know which one you prefer after all.
Your way doesn’t have to be like anyone else’s, certainly not like mine, but I’m hoping these ideas give you a little more freedom and joy.
Whatever you do, find a way to associate the editing process with creativity and possibility, not obligation and dread. Be playful about it.
For the Love of the Photograph,
PS – Want more? This email goes out to a whole lot of people and I don’t know you all, but in case we’re new to each other and you like the way I approach this craft, there’s more where this came from.
You can find my collection of eBooks at CraftandVision.com, or my best-selling books about the craft and creative process of photography on Amazon. The Heart of the Photograph is my most recent, it pairs beautifully with The Soul of the Camera, and the 10th anniversary edition of Within The Frame, one of the best-selling photography books of the last 11 years, is still as relevant as it was when it first came out. And for those of you that have been reading my books faithfully for years, I hope you know how deep my gratitude runs. Thank you.
I think I know why you chose twelve. It’s a small roll of film. I always shoot in blocks of thirty-six. This is a habit that goes back to film. It’s too easy to shoot hundreds of images in seconds with digital. I really don’t think that works. I mentioned this to someone who approached me at a gallery show. “How many shots did you take to get that? he asked. “One, maybe two, “ I said, and then he explained how he’ll take dozens of shots of the same tree. I mentioned that this approach is fine, but wouldn’t it be better to get it right the first time?
I quickly go trough all the images and each one I like gets one star. With that new one star selection I do the exact same thing until I narrowed it down to only 5 star images. I think its pretty popular … and still the fastest way for me.
Very interesting to see different approaches here in the comments 😉
My catalog is huge, I even had to build a large ANS box to keep them because I rarely have the time to back and start deleting the really bad pics I take. But I have found value in old used photos (I photograph real estate), some friends and clients have asked me for old photos for them to use in their social media for unrelated business (one is an insurance company) so I can sell or give away my old unused photos to drum get new business.
David, you and I aren’t even on the same planet when it comes to editing needs. When you said you came back from your trip with 20,000 images, I checked my Lightroom catalog and after shooting with DSLRs for 10 years, I’ve got less than 40,000. If I had to edit 20,000 images down to 12, I honestly think i would go nuts! This isn’t to say I don’t whip through my images fairly quickly since everything is a function of time these days, but I’m talking about 100s at a time, not 1000s. I always import my new images into Lightroom within 24 hours, and usually take a close gander either immediately or within the next day or two. What I first look for are the well-composed shots. Next, I zoom in to make sure I focused properly. If I messed up and the resolution ain’t there, it’s a reject and time to move on. Unless I had a real off day, I am usually able to find a handful of images with potential – which I then ship off to Aurora HDR where I have developed an efficient work flow. After some additional post-processing in Lightroom, it is time for a print or two (or three). This should all occur within 1-2 days. Unfortunately, it is at this point in time when other priorities kick in and demand my attention – or, I go back out with the camera and snap more shots which starts the process anew – and it may thereafter be days if not weeks before I return for a second edit. In short, I don’t find the editing to be torture at all. What instead frustrates me is not having enough hours in the day for editing (since I do have a business to run). I toy with the idea of shutting down any picture-taking until I’m all caught up with my editing, but let’s be realistic (in my world), that’ll never happen because photography is so addictive. Since I can’t just throw in the towel, I may have to give Celeste’s “beverage” workflow a serious try and see if that expedites things for me.
I really enjoyed reading this. It was such a relief to know that other photographers struggle with this as well. I have an entire folder that is full of images from various days of shooting that I have not completed editing down tho ones I will keep or use. It always has a way of making me feel like I am doing something wrong to have such a backlog of editing to do. I do go back to the different shoots over time and pair them down little by little. Sometimes when I have a folder that is getting to a manageable number I will make it my goal to finish the edit on that folder. Clearing a folder from my files is such a relief. I still have a folder to finish editing from a race I photographed in 2017. Thank you for writing about this issue.
thanks for sharing your approach and ideas. The one I use quite often, I actually picked it up by a Pro during a business portrait shoot. He would go trough the shots by 3-6 in one pass, showing them on the screen, then pick – or the customer picks – the best shot of this group. One star. Obviously you can do that up to 5 times or so, thus reducing the number of shots fairly easy. The hint is to make a choice quickly. The chances are high that you pick the best shot of the group and after a few rounds, there is a selection, small enough, to work with.
I did incorporate that in my workflow and it also works great for many genres e.g. weddings, events, sports, even landscape or wildlife.
Your articles and posts are always worth reading, possessing a thoughtful and human-centered approach to photography that resonates with so many of us who toil in the fields of image-making and creation. I am continually surprised (and often enlightened) with the free-hearted manner you dispense your hard-won knowledge and the good-natured style in which you do it!
Be Well & Stay Well!
I like this article and I also want to use this opportunity to thank you for your very helpful books on photography. However, there are two points in the article that confuse me a little (maybe because I am not a professional photographer):
1. Where do the 20000 photos come from in the first place (555 standard 36 picture film cartridges from the bad old days)? I understand that this does not affect the problem of editing a large amount of photos, but I am curious. For a trip of 4 weeks (just a guess as you did not mention the length of the trip), that’s 5000 photos a week, approx. 700 a day. If you take pictures 14 hours a day, that means 50 pictures an hour, nearly every minute a photo. Well, maybe it was a sports event with lots of high frame rate photographing?
2. What is the point in “pick a number”? Does that not mean that I have to go through all the photos to pick the ones until I reach the number? This might be efficient if the good or best ones are among the first being looked at. If not, you still have to go through all photos which will take 16 hours.
Hi Dietmar – Yes, in the example I gave I was in East Africa and much of my work was wildlife, shot on high speed continuous burst. But most of my trips are similar. I might come home with half that, but I shoot mostly in high or low bursts of 3-5 images per second, giving me sharper images and greater selection of stronger moments. 2. The point in choosing a number is that I’m giving myself a constraint. When I know I’m looking for 12 images and only 12 on that first edit, there is less pressure to choose everything and more discipline to choose only the images that work for me. Sometimes I find a few more, and that’s OK, but for me the goal is to not be overwhelmed and to choose only the best. I think if I edited with an eye to finding as many images as possible I would be more willing to let the mediocre images slip through.
Thank you for this and all of your articles. While I always get something out of your articles (and books), this one really struck a chord for me. Thank you for your disciplined approach. I do have one question: you, and a number of other photographers mentioned “making sketch images”. Is this a term of art or are you really creating sketches of your photos? Is that not time consuming in and of itself?
In short, can you help me understand what sketch images are and how to go about this?
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, experience and passion. ~ Robin
Hey Robin, great question. Sorry I wasn’t clearer. I’ve explained this before and sometimes forget not everyone sees everything I’ve written. This will help: https://davidduchemin.com/2018/09/your-worst-images-might-be-your-most-important/
Dang, I’ve been trying to figure this out for so long! It was easier in film days, when I only dealt with 12-36 images at a time. After winnowing out obvious losers from our SE Asia trip, I’ve still been struggling with ~3,100 images. Thank you, David!!
Editing IS hard. I usually wait a while , weeks or months, after the shoot so that emotions are less and I can evaluate better. First run, delete the obvious “awfuls”! Then use Bridge stars: 1, so-so; 2. good; 3. best. Rarely do I find a 4, or 5! I start rendering the 3s, abandon any time if it isn’t what I want. And what do I want? I’ve developed a series of personal criteria after 30 years of work (starting with film) that have little to do with subject matter but more with form and lines. I don’t limit to a specific number of selects at first , and might go back months and sometimes years later to find hidden gems. A recent project came up and I have reviewed the past five years of travel in search of only ten images. Research for a book might mean going back through several years of work to follow a specific theme, Mojave Desert, for example. As of now I just moved to a new house with huge wall spaces. So the project is selection of images for large scale prints for my home gallery. Always enjoy your communications as they help me think about solutions to the many problems of photography. Thank you so much for you teaching!
Always enjoy your emails, etc.. always educational and inspirational.
As far as editing is concerned, the initial answer is that it depends on what I’m shooting. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past ten plus years shooting models in the studio. Given the high level of experience I have working in this genre, I generally know what I want to achieve and in most cases I know I’ve got it while shooting. Not a lot of sketch images required and usually a low total image count. Editing these sessions becomes fairly straight forward, however, in some cases I’ll discover something that I see differently in editing than I did while shooting. It’s always multiple passes through the work on different days.
I’ve also been to Death Vally and the Eastern Sierras many times shooting landscapes. Given the travel and variations in season and weather, I’ll shoot with a more explorative approach and the image count will be higher. Working in this genre I generally have little or no preconceptions around what I want to achieve. More time is spent in LR reviewing the images and making selections.
It’s a simple process in Lightroom of just a single star for the ones that grab my interest. I have two folders under each shoot in LR, one for raw files and one for processed/edited images. I’ll drag the selected raw files into the processed folder for editing. This holds true for all shoots regardless of genre. I’ll also allow all edited images to breathe for at least a few days before releasing them to the public. I don’t delete any images and am always spending some time going back through older shoots looking for gems that I may have missed.
Thank you Dave, very interesting, I definitely follow some of your thought processes.
I have Aphantasia so don’t really know what I am going to find when I return from an ‘expedition’.
Firstly I click quickly through the images and anything which catches my eye or I find I am wondering about gets 2 stars.
Second time through any of these that are not sharp or something go to 1 star (they have potential for another outing).
Anything that calls strongly gets worked up. If it survives this it gets 3 stars. Anything else I have a go at, allowing hard cropping or other aggressive attention. This often uncovers what the subconscious saw. Again survivors get 3 stars. I have two smart collections for three stars – ‘All’, and ‘Last 12 Months’. And that’s it!
If / when I come to realise the images they go through ‘Varnishing’ – preparing for print, Instagram or whatever.
Thank you for the honest assessment of what drive many of us to distraction.
I have 40 years worth of images on hard drives that I have put off doing solid edits on. I had always thought “do I need to delete this image?” But this blog entry brings some reason to my insanity. I am going to start editing my archives again with a different thought in mind: Do I put it in the “SELECTS” folder or leave it in the “SKETCH” folder.
Thanks! I needed this!
Pretty good article David. Thank you!
I try to upload the photos to my computer asap and will give 4 stars to whatever I want to keep and 5 stars to the ones that I feel they are special. Sometimes because I like the light, the color, composition or they are nostalgic (those are the most difficult to assess).
I found that is much easier to delete photos from a place that I can go anytime, than from an overseas trip. Specially to remote places. I wouldn’t delete the very bad photo I took in a tea house in a remote village in West Papua for example.
Sometimes I put the same files in 2 different folders and check them in different days. I usually get the same grading for both. So I’m consistent; for a short period of time at least. I do a second round years after for the 4 star pics and I usually realize that my standards have changed.
If I start taking photos from a new subject (e.g. birds) would be difficult for me to tell what is good or not at the beginning. If it is birds I will keep whatever is sharp, and with time, as I improve, those old photos will be reassessed and replaced by better new ones of the same subject.
David, Thanks for yet again bringing on an “Aha!” for me, with “I find it helpful to know what I’m choosing the images for.” Too many times I simply select the “best” to bring to my photography group, without a specific project (filter) in mind other than a number. No wonder it’s always been overwhelming to choose. I also love the idea of 3 passes.
You are a master of stating simple things that make all the difference. Thanks for your writing and your podcast, which together with being out with my camera, have improved my photography tenfold in the past 2 years.
Stay safe, be well, sorry I won’t be seeing you at your workshop.
Hi David, I make no excuses for being “slack” at editing. I look at images when back from a holiday/trip and think they are all garbage and then leave them. Also thinking the editing process will be too time consuming. However have just started relooking at some images from a Western Australia trip (holiday) about 5 years ago and are finding some images worthy of closer attention. Your comments about leaving images for days, weeks or 12 months (if not for a client), gives me heart that I shouldn’t be overwhelmed about trying to have every photo I have taken on a trip an edited masterpiece. Really enjoy your articles and information. Best regards Wayne Martin
When I am shooting for someone else, I go through the images pretty quickly. I narrow the images down in two or three passes.
When I am doing them for myself, I sometimes sit on the images for months. The final look I want plays in my subconscious for a few months, and then when I am ready – I start
Sometimes, I come back to them after years and do a second edit. I am editing some old images to produce into a magazine format through Blurb. I am editing my current crop of these old images with a specific set of looks in mind.
It depends on what I want at a particular point in time
I arranged myself with the editing taks as soon as I mastered the relevant LR features. For me it works best to scroll through the thumbnails and press “b” to add the photograph to a collection. From these frames, I chose the ones for my series and try to optimize the flow of the series. In case, the cut is too small, happens very seldom actually, I go back to the original files. After I made my selection, I do the post processing which requires usually less than 5 minutes per frame. That process works absolutely fine for me.
Its quite a luxury you have being able to just keep 5-star images and chuck the rest. Trouble is, what may be only 3-4 star for the photographer may be a the one image the client loves the most! There have been plenty of photoshoots where clients have passed over the images I liked the best for printing, and opted for others that would have missed the cut by your method. So for client work, you need to keep images that may not be your own personal favourites.
We all have different needs, Paul, and they demand different ways of working. Luxury? OK. Perhaps. But would I ever consider giving my client the option of keeping images I don’t consider to be my best? I wouldn’t dream of it. My clients do not hire me because I know how to use a camera but because of other intangibles. Vision and taste and an ability to tell a story. I am mostly my own client now, and that affords me an easier freedom in this but to allow them to use work that’s not your best? We all need to make our own choices but that seems a long term mistake for short term gain, to me. If they don’t trust you with the broadest effort, they might not be your ideal clients. Or you might not really understand their needs. But the fit doesn’t sound right to me.
Great article! with the lockdown I have been spending more time editing so this article has been helpful. for me the fear that I might miss something or not notice the potential in a photo has held me back. I like the idea of pulling out those photos that make you stop in your track and say, Whoah! so I have rated those with a colour so I know they are at the top of my list to edit further. I have a second colour for what I think will make a monochrome. its easy eliminating the bad photos but its the in between, the close to great but not close enough so I like the idea that you have three goes and can come back to them in a month or a year. thanks again David.
Thank you David for this brilliant article. Timing is perfect as many of us will continue to have time at home due to pandemic.
I will read and reread both your article as well as the comments, many of which also had valuable suggestions.
I am one of the unusual ones who truly enjoy editing, every bit of it from file management to the creative aspect,
though I do feel overwhelmed when I return from a trip with 2,500 images. I know this pales compared to your 20,000.
Thanks to your guidance, I feel it is much more manageable.
Always grateful for your podcast as well as posts, but I know this one especially will be enjoyed today and in days going forward. Stay Well.
Thanks, Ann. That means the world to me. My podcast is the project that currently gets most of my deepest emotional bandwidth so it’s nice to know it matters to others as well. Thank you for that. 🙂
Love your suggestions here. I am so relieved after choosing what’s worth saving on a quick first go I actually do delete the rest. It feels like taking burden off my shoulders. I am pure amateur so if I miss a slightly better shot who will ever care? Do it in a way that brings you the most joy 😊 Thank you for sharing your wisdom and thoughts with us 🙏
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!
Thanks David for your insights on editing ie. what I think of as weeding. While not to downplay this very personal task of photographic selection, some may find a fellow photographer/mate/artist/friend helpful in making some final selections. Sometimes it’s hard to separate ourselves from the photographic experience of an image versus its aesthetic quality. An impartial set of eyes may help in that final selection if one is suffering paralysis by analysis. One final comment- although most seasoned photographers would keep back-ups of ALL images, editing is choosing the gems to work on, perhaps print or share. Ie. make the point to your readers that editing isn’t about permanent deletion. This might relieve the pressure some feel in sifting for the few gems. Cheers.
Absolutely right, Lloyd. I never delete anything other than the very obvious frames that are completely white, black or of my feet. The filter in my brain that today says “delete this crap” may tomorrow or in week or years be proven a poor filter, or it might be changed entirely. I think you’re right, some will find having another person edit their work or help with that process much easier. I only caution that it had better be someone who understands your vision. A “better photograph” is only defined in terms of “better at accomplishing what?”
Always a worthy topic.
I don’t shoot at your volume, but I was at the beach yesterday with my new Lensbaby Velvet 28 and came home with a couple hundred images. I offload all my images onto my iPad. I make a quick initial edit to get rid of the unfocused and otherwise unacceptable.
Then I do another as I start to do post on my favorites.
Then I try to assign them an album, but sometimes that just gets confusing and unwieldy, and I end up letting them slide back into the Camera Roll of History.
A better system for sorting—yes, please!
Also, I’m interested that you do prints.
Do you file those or what is their fate?
Hi Sandy – Thanks for asking. I print my work for my archives so they aren’t just sitting on harddrives, so I put them in nice archival boxes, put a label on them and put those that fit into my bookshelves and the larger ones into a print cabinet made for larger prints/blueprints, etc.
This article (email) couldn’t have come at a better time. A back injury + COVID-19 had me completely locked down at home with nothing but an enormous backlog of editing to do on my personal photos from the last 8 years (I can relate to your friends predicament). I have procrastinated for 3 weeks, busying myself with file managment and organization tasks in my photo library. I still haven’t chosen the images of my son’s birth that will go to print. Your article has given me hope, ideas, and a few techniques for a way to finally do it! Thanks so much.
You’re welcome! Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Find one image a day and you’ll have 365 final edits by the end of the year. Don’t let this overwhelm you, Michael. 🙂
OK, I know I’m weird, but I quite enjoy editing, though I do admit that I sometimes miss a great image, that I only
discover after going back, sometimes years later, which is happening quite a bit now because of lockdown. It generally happens because I am excited abouta particular image(s) out in the field and then overlook some good ones when I get back home and do the edits.
But what the heck, I also enjoy finding overlooked images that I can bring to fruition, often with new insights and technologies that I lacked when I did the original edits.
I still, like everyone else, have images that will never be “edited,” cause they simply don’t make the grade, but it’s fun to find overlooked images with new insight and skills.
You are weird, Tom, but in that really good, friendly way. 🙂 I enjoy editing too, so long as I stay on top of it and don’t pressure myself into a process that’s not playful and has to be done all at once. Nothing like the feeling of discovering an overlooked image!
I read the edit article w interest. However, I am still not able to understand how you go through 20,000 images. I think you quicly look at screens full of small images and pick one or none. Even that takes time and this is an eye strain. Plus, if you look at the images as small icons, you cannot really edit them. And, if you look at each one full screen, 3 secs each, it will, as you state, take 16 hours.
That is, I am still confused how I can review 20M images, now, in a week and possibly again in a year. a
Side note. As a person who enjoys shooting people most, I am having trouble rekindling my interest in photography during these social distancing pandemic times.
Hi Lorne – I’m not sure what to say, I scan thumbnails only looking for gesture and tension and balance, interesting colours, etc. I don’t look at single images, but at thumbnails, reacting only to those that really catch my eye but knowing I’ll be doing a second and third edit so I don’t have the fear of missing anything. If I’m looking only for those that jump out at me, rather than engaging my analytical brain for every frame, I save a great deal of time in each single edit session. Do what works for you, but my experience tells me many photographers are too analytical in this process and not sufficiently reactive.
It definitely helps to use the right software for culling. In Lightroom, going through 20k images would take a lifetime. In Photo Mechanic it would take hours. Photo Mechanic is an integral part of my photography business (I have no connection or relationship with the company), but the funny thing is it has a very limited use in my workflow. I use it to ingest, cull, rename and organize images. All of these things can be done in LR. And, LR can do a million other things. But for the specific tasks that I use Photo Mechanic for, I don’t think anything can beat it for speed and ease.
You have a sixth sense David. You always hit on the subjects that photographers have to deal with. I like how you break things down to basics and help find the solutions we all are looking for. I have been following you for many years and have a book or two of yours. Now I am going to get back to editing. Stay well, and thanks again for your insights.
I’m so please to be able to help, Ely. Thank you!
Also doing a lot of analogue photography, the dimensions of any editing problem are often diminished by the costs involved. Even when doing digital I tend to shoot one or two photos of a motif and move on. Old habits die hard.
Not so long ago I photographed a wedding and a reception in the family, so I had a few hundred photos to edit.
Basically, I start by chucking out obviously bad photos. If they are unsharp (it happens, especially when using a manual focus lens), eyes closed, an unflattering look, etc they all go straight away. Scene by scene, i.e. then look to see if there are any “jackpot” photos as the late photographer Jane Bown called them. If I am lucky, I can use them, I usually keep a second one for comparison and move on to the next scene.
Eventually, either the same day or later, I can take a second look. Are there scenes of the same people who may not be in need of repetition? Do I have enough of the particular person(s) already? This check usually results in further culling. After the second pass I am usually down to under the half of the photos. Nevertheless, at least a third pass is necessary to see whether I can chuck out any more.
Sometimes during and sometimes afterwards I look at the photos again to decide what needs to converted to black and white and what can stay in colour. The test is simple: Do any colours distract? During this phase some pictures, disappear, too.
I could go through the resulting photos again but I don’t. I have learnt that what you may think is good is not necessarily what those photographed will be happy with. It is better to have a few more so that they can pick and choose.
Good Morning David, must tell you how much I enjoy your Sunday sermons (lol). I always learn something from them
Thanks, Stanley. Another good morning at the Church of Perpetual Craft and Growing Vision, eh? 😉
This reminder came at the absolute perfect time. I have always loved your expression and admonition to avoid “polishing turds”. But sometimes it is hard to tell. In the past, when I first got started, I used to deliberately begin by working on the photographs that were less meaningful and in that way avoid disappointment. Crazy, huh? Don’t do that anymore. But still, it can be hard to tell when a photograph has potential but misses the mark for one reason or another, and when it just needs some love and attention to pull it out. Because of the COVID pandemic and not having that much opportunity (or desire, to be honest) to make new photographs, I have been going back through the literally thousands I made over the past year and finding some real gems. What you are pointing to feels all too true. The idea of having a clearer idea of what I plan to do with an image or a series, the idea of trusting my gut and “feeling” whether or not an image matters to me and finally, if it ain’t worth printing, it’s probably not worth devoting time in post – that’s just plain great advice. Thanks as always.
Kerry, MANY is the time I have worked on an image for way too long only to finally smell the turd I didn’t recognize at the beginning! Sometimes it’s only doing that work that teaches us what our tools can and can’t do. Nothing wrong with anything that helps us learn. And I’m with you, I haven’t had the foggiest desire to pick up my camera. Not for a second. Others are having wildly creative times. But then I’m writing up a storm. As others have observed, there’s no one right way to deal with this pandemic, and I’m quite certain that applies to life beyond this whole thing. Thanks as always for being part of the community I love so much.
I will never be as ruthless in editing as you are but I do get it as I go on 1-2 photo expeditions a year with and ex Nat Geo photo editor. She has beaten our group into the habit of thinking in much the same way as you do. 10 images in 2 weeks for the final review and no BS.
I should say upfront that I actually like editing because I get to think about the image more than you might in the split second the decision was made to press the shutter on the street.
When i get back from a trip with 8-20k images I spend a lot more time in editing than you do and may actually process about 5% of what I’ve shot. I do it because I find that while many are not the absolute best I learn a lot in the process of what I did right and more importantly wrong. For me its a critical part of the self improvement process. An image may not make the cut because of missing focus but on the other hand the composition might be dead on, etc.
I process first in color. Then after its all done I restart and do it in BW. I find the BW editing is the eye opener as the images are stripped down to composition, light and shadows. They are so different than their color brothers and sisters that its almost like a bonus adventure.
While editing seems laborious I can say as a non professional photographer its a part of the formation of my personal form of art. Constant intense learning is critical to the creation of it. I know that I may not get back to the locations on many of my trips for a long time or ever. Investing time in the post experience is hugely rewarding. Plus of course the more experience you have in editing the more possibilities exist when you confront image decisions.
As always I look forward to your articles as I enjoy thinking about the subjects you bring forth. Best wishes and stay safe.
Hi Charlie – I love this: “…spend a lot more time in editing than you do and may actually process about 5% of what I’ve shot. I do it because I find that while many are not the absolute best I learn a lot in the process of what I did right and more importantly wrong.” Absolutely! You seem to have less of a struggle with editing than others and I think for those that are closer to where you are in this the play and creativity can be not only really enjoyable but a great learning experience. Thanks for that.
David I quite liked the tips on editing. Usually when I am going through the images and I hover over one, I immediately go into improvement mode. More light here, less shadow there. I will implement your process or at least try yo. Because what I have found in my brief time making photographs, no amount of editing will fix a bad photo.
It’s true that no amount of post-production will turn a bad photograph into a good one, but you hit on something interesting I should have added to my article. Once in a while I pick and image, like you, and tinker with it. Seeing what is possible with that one image often gives me ideas for other images in the series. For example, if I tinker with an image and find it works better in colour than black and white I might start looking at my images differently. The images you pull out while editing for a black and white series might be very different from the ones chosen for a colour series. Great feedback, Sandro. Thanks!
1) Grab beverage of choice (time-of-day-dependent)
2) x anything that is unusable – out of focus, blown exposure, pics of inside of camera bag
3) Flag anything that catches my eye
4) Refill beverage
5) Review flags for ‘the one’ – the one that right at that moment I want to work with, to live with, to print. Might be more than one, but something that is worthy of *more*.
6) Play to my heart’s content,
7) Now that I’m in the moment, in the trip or event, and I can have a 2nd or even a 3rd look over a week or.
Working on one, as soon as I see it, gets me focused. That image may not be that great, it may never make the cut for whatever project, but makes me sit down and focus on the work.
8) Finish beverage.
I am seeing flaws in my workflow all of a sudden! I have not prioritized the roll of the beverage! Thanks for the tip, Celeste! 🙂
I find that hard to believe.
So David, are you sayin you go through the ‘1000’ minutes three times in your three passes? Or do you cull to produce smaller subsets each time?
Hi John, No, sorry, I mentioned the 1000 minutes as the kind of time I just don’t think anyone really has, hence my approach. I probably spend 3-4 hours selecting images from a big shoot like the one I mentioned. That’s my first edit. Maybe the same for the second, but then my third is usually closer to 2 hours. That’s an estimate, and it’s based on enough years of experience that I think my internal image-picker is probably better honed now than it once was.
Often, I will let a edit sit for a few days then go back to it. Fresh eyes reveal a lot that one doesn’t see in the initial edit.
I totally agree. We see through all kinds of filters and giving ourselves a chance to see our work through different filters is probably one of the best things we can do for it.
This post (and your email) could not have been more timely! I’m literally slogging thru three years’ worth of files that were trapped on SD cards pending making room on my hard drive, which I finally did by attaching two external drives. (Once I clear these, I’ve got another 2-3 years of unedited files that were already waiting on my PC, but I’m trying not to think about those). I would not be surprised if the total added up to 500k files. :O
These aren’t even from trips, just daily or weekly trips to my botanical garden, basically. Nevertheless, now that I’m finally going thru them, I’m convinced it’s a giant pile of utter garbage and that I’d be better off leaving my camera home and sticking to phone shots from now on!
Anyway, thanks again for these tips, as I reluctantly work my way back over to my desk for another day of torture! 😁
Put some music on, grab a drink, enjoy the journey. The number of sketch images doesn’t matter. Just look for those few hidden gems that give you joy! 🙂
Hi David, thanks for all the blogs and books and podcasts. I love them all, they make me think, even when I disagree.
I really love, that you emphasize photographer over equipment.
With regard to editing, I once read – and it does work for me – when I look first at my new photographs, I delete like Dschinghis Khan with a bad mood. So maybe I have much more really bad photographs than you. But it does get the numbers down…
Please stay healthy and happy in these times.
Thanks, Gretl, do you not worry that you’ll delete something now that you might otherwise consider later?
Thank you for this. I rarely think in terms of printing or a large project, because most of my images are for personal historical documentation online, but those tips were helpful for future considerations.
Typically after a day of shooting, I upload my images and do a quick look through them to check for any immediate winners and duds. I delete the duds (terribly out of focus, too over or underexposed) and star the ones that captured good light or a great subject. Then my next round is to go through a trip’s photos and rate the best with 3 or 4 stars. I often edit and post 1-2 of the winners right away, but like you, I too go back a bit later, when the emotions aren’t as connected to the photos, and narrow them down again.
Interesting how many people find a second or third pass. I’ve read about people that only do it as immediately as possible, and those who say you’ve got to wait a while. I think both have benefits, so why not take advantage of both, right? Thanks for the comment, Amy. 🙂